LITTLE ME by Bell Poitrine

Little Me sat on the bookshelf at the family cabin for years. I don't know if anyone ever read it. When the cabin was sold I brought home all of the old books. It turns out there's been a real lu-lu sitting on the shelf all those years.

Little Me says it's "the intimate memoirs of that great star of stage, screen and television" as told to Patrick Dennis.

Don't believe any of it, even the name Patrick Dennis.
Little Me was the parody "confessional" self-indulgent autobiography of "Belle Poitrine" (French for "Pretty Bosom"), subtitled The Intimate Memoirs of the Great Star of Stage, Screen and Television, by Patrick Dennis, who had achieved a great success with Auntie Mame. A bestseller when introduced in book form, the work was also later staged on Broadway as a musical.

The heavily illustrated work featured numerous photographs by Cris Alexander, who combined retouched stock photographs with original photographs taken to create Belle Poitrine's life. Published in 1961, it was considered pretty risqué at the time. (Several of Alexander's photographs were rejected by censors.) The book also featured family and friends of Dennis and Alexander, including Dennis' wife, Louise, as "Pixie Portnoy", and ballet dancer Shaun O'Brien (Alexander's life partner) as Mr. Musgrove. Actress Dodie Goodman and comedienne Alice Pearce were prominently featured. Actress Jeri Archer portrayed the often overexposed, self-centered and clueless Poitrine, and Kurt Bieber was her beefcake co-star and paramour, "Letch Feely". Little Me was reissued in 2002 with a new preface by Charles Busch and foreword by Alexander.

The plot of Little Me tells the rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches, etc. story of Maybelle Schlumfert, an overdeveloped and self-deluded girl who rises to become Belle Poitrine. (An example of her delusion: Belle is born in 1900 and the book proceeds with a chapter for each decade- but chapter six is titled "Frankly Forty") Throughout the book, Poitrine's character trumpets her successes (which are few) while glossing over her failures (which are many). The book was a stinging parody of the cult of celebrity and self-importance stemming from the numerous "personality overcoming obstacles" biographies of the late 1940s and early 1950s. (SOURCE: Wikipedia)
So who was Patrick Dennis? Oh my, even the author isn't what he seems and doesn't that make this even more fun?
Patrick Dennis (May 18, 1921 – November 6, 1976) was an American author. His novel Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade (1955) was one of the bestselling American books of the 20th century. In chronological vignettes "Patrick" recalls his adventures growing up under the wing of his madcap aunt, Mame Dennis. Dennis wrote a sequel, Around the World with Auntie Mame, in 1958.

"I write in the first person, but it is all fictional. The public assumes that what seems fictional is fact; so the way for me to be inventive is to seem factual but be fictional." All of Dennis's novels employ to some degree the traditional comic devices of masks, subterfuge and deception.

Patrick Dennis was born Edward Everett Tanner III in Evanston, Illinois. His father nicknamed him "Pat" before he was born, after the Irish heavyweight boxer Pat Sweeney, "a dirty fighter known for kicking his opponents." When he was old enough to say so, he let it be known that he liked "Pat" better than "Edward," and so Pat he became. Pat attended Evanston Township High School where he was popular and excelled in writing and theater.

In 1942, he joined the American Field Service, working as an ambulance driver in North Africa and the Middle East.

On December 30, 1948, Dennis married Louise Stickney, with whom he had two children.

Auntie Mame
's first edition spent 112 weeks on the bestseller list, selling more than 2,000,000 copies in five different languages. The manuscript was turned down by fifteen publishers before being accepted by the Vanguard Press. Dennis and a friend marketed the book to the booksellers. At the height of its popularity, it was selling more than 1,000 copies a day; throughout 1955 and 1956, it sold between 1,000 and 5,000 a week. In 1956, with Auntie Mame, The Loving Couple: His (and Her) Story, and Guestward, Ho!, Dennis became the only writer ever to have three books on the New York Times bestseller list at the same time.

Working with longtime friend, actor and photographer Cris Alexander, Dennis created two parody memoirs, complete with elaborate photographs. The first, Little Me, recounts the escapades through life and love of glamour girl Belle Poitrine "as told to Patrick Dennis." His wife, Louise, appeared as "Pixie Portnoy" in the book's photographic illustrations, which included their children and an employee as well. The second "bio," First Lady (1964), is the life story of Martha Dinwiddie Butterfield, oblivious wife of a robber baron who "stole" the presidency for thirty days at the turn of the century.

Throughout his life, he struggled with his bisexuality, at one point becoming a well-known participant in Greenwich Village's gay scene.

Dennis' work fell out of fashion in the 1970s, and all of his books went out of print. In his later years, he left writing to become a butler, a job that his friends reported he enjoyed. At one time, he worked for Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald's. Although he was at long last using his real name, he was in essence working yet again under a pseudonym; his employers had no inkling that their butler, Tanner, was the world-famous author Patrick Dennis.

He died from pancreatic cancer in Manhattan at the age of 55.

At the turn of the 21st century there was a resurgence of interest in his work, and subsequently many of his novels are once again available. His son, Dr. Michael Tanner, wrote introductions to several reissues of his father's books. Some of Dennis' original manuscripts are held at Yale University, others at Boston University. (SOURCE: Wikipedia)
To see an article from the December 7, 1962 LIFE magazine about Patrick Dennis click here.

So what about the photographer, Cris Alexander, who created the altered photos?
Cris Alexander (born Alan Smith; January 14, 1920) is an American actor, singer, dancer, designer, and photographer.

As an actor he co-starred as Chip in the original Broadway cast of On the Town. Subsequent Broadway appearances included Present Laughter opposite Clifton Webb, Wonderful Town, and Auntie Mame. Mr. Alexander also appeared in the film version of Auntie Mame as the department store supervisor of actress Rosalind Russell.

Prior to retiring, Alexander was a successful photographer, noted for his celebrity portraits. For many years he was the official photographer for the New York City Ballet.

Alexander contributed hundreds of original and altered photographs to two of Patrick Dennis's best selling books. Little Me, a mock biography documenting the life of the world's worst actress Belle Poitrine, features more than 150 of Alexander's photographs. Alexander also wrote the novel's preface. Dennis' First Lady: My Thirty Days at the White House told of Martha Dinwiddie Butterfield (Peggy Cass), wife of a robber baron who literally stole the presidency at the turn of the century. Using friends and professional models and actors, Alexander's zany photographs were essential to the novels' success. For several years he served as Chief Photographer at Andy Warhol's Interview magazine. He is a long time resident of Saratoga Springs, New York, and he is also the life-partner of former New York City Ballet dancer Shaun O'Brien. In the 1940s, Alexander was romantically involved with the dancer and choreographer John Butler. (SOURCE: Wikipedia)

I bet you were thinking I was going to post something from Montez Lawton's scrapbook? Believe me, there's nothing like this in her collection.

This edition of Little Me was published in November 1962.

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